I just finished a whirlwind three days at the Ancestral Health Symposium at Harvard University. I had never been to AHS – in fact, I hadn’t even heard of AHS last August, so it’s pretty amazing how much has changed for me in the past year. I went from barely knowing what the word “Paleo” referred to, to rubbing shoulders with the likes of Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Diane Sanfilippo, and other big names in the Paleo community. I’m pretty awestruck by that, so when people ask me what I intend to do when I graduate in a year and a half, I generally tell them that since my life has changed so drastically in the past year, that I hesitate to even try to imagine what I’ll be doing in 18 months. It’s quite exhilarating, and being at these conferences just reminds me how far I’ve come since then.
My mother and I were volunteering at the Weston A. Price Foundation booth, and we spent a large majority of our time at the event talking to interested participants who wanted to hear more about why the information that WAPF provides is so important to the Ancestral Health movement. I’m really glad that we were the ones representing the organization at the conference. Unfortunately, I find that there are many people in both the Paleo and WAPF communities who have a lot of misdirected animosity towards the other group, and I’m not quite sure why there is any division in the first place. We’re all working towards the same goal – to get people eating the most healthy, sustainable, and biologically appropriate diet that they can reasonably accomplish in the current food climate – and arguing about such worn out topics like whether or not we should eat carbs is a huge waste of valuable time. Trying to determine the optimal diet for every person on the planet is an enormous, if not impossible, undertaking, so I think we should be focused more on how to improve the current food system so that all people have the opportunity to eat as healthily as possible, and then maybe we can continue the discussion on whether glucose is a toxin.
Fortunately, Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson, two of the biggest names in Paleo and Primal nutrition, are on the same page as me, and graciously joined the Weston A. Price Foundation this weekend. I was really happy that they were so willing to lend their support, since they hold so much sway in the community and can hopefully show their fans that we’re all on the same team here, and that we should all be working together to make significant change in our communities and local food systems. Robb and Mark are rock stars, and I can’t thank them enough for helping me do my job this weekend!
If you’re interested in joining the likes of Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Chris Kresser, Chris Masterjohn, and other super smart nutrition junkies that are members of the Weston Price Foundation, check out this link.
Since I was there to represent the Weston Price Foundation, I didn’t get to attend as many talks as I would have liked. Which is fine, since the Ancestral Health Society will be posting all the videos online for free in a couple months – this made the conference way more enjoyable since I didn’t have the stress of taking notes and deciding which talks I wanted to attend. There were a few great talks I did get to see though, so I’m glad I managed to get in for them. Chris Kresser had a really interesting talk on iron overload and how to manage that condition, and I was impressed by how he used his Powerpoint so effectively. Chris Masterjohn presented a fascinating hypothesis about the role that oxidative stress plays in carbohydrate intolerance, which I think I understood for the most part (that guy is a genius!).
Stephan Guyenet had one of the best presentations at the whole conference in my opinion, not only because of the great content but because his presentation style was so easy to understand. I think it’s important that people present complicated information in a way that less highly educated people can comprehend. His talk was on the role of gut microflora in a variety of health conditions such as obesity and metabolic syndrome. Denise Minger was the last talk of the conference, and was both hilarious and informative as usual. Her topic was “Meet your Meat”, and she explained how meat has become demonized in popular nutrition beliefs, but also how meat may pose some problems if eaten in excess or cooked improperly. I’m glad she brought this topic up because sometimes I think people in the Paleo community assume that meat is a completely benign foodstuff and that eating massive quantities of it poses no risk. I can’t wait for the talks to be posted online since there were a few that I heard rave reviews about.
There were a few non-academic highlights of attending this conference as well. It was so great to see a bunch of my friends from the PaleoFX conference in Austin, such as Diane from Balanced Bites, Bill and Hayley from Primal Palate, Nom Nom Paleo and FitBomb, Stacy from Paleo Parents, George from Civilized Caveman Cooking Creations, and Diana from Sustainable Dish. I would have liked to spend more time with them (we were all scattered for most of the event) but it’s always great getting to catch up with friends. Hopefully next time I see them I’ll have more time to chat! If you want to see some great shots of the event, check out Bobby Gill’s photo album.
Speaking of Diana, she organized the most AMAZING dinner at her farm in Carlisle that I can’t even begin to do justice to describing. Her barn was spectacularly decorated with lights, flowers, Ball jars for drinks, and candles. There was an open bar with locally sourced wine and cocktails, and the menu was out of control delicious. I seriously wish that event could be recreated for my wedding reception (assuming I ever get married!), and the company that put on the event, called Chive, was a local, sustainable, “no-waste” catering company that did an absolutely incredible job. I still just cannot get over how amazing everything looked, how delicious the food was, and how smoothly the whole event ran.
The best part of the evening, of course, was the great conversation with an amazing group of people. I managed to mortify myself AGAIN while talking to Robb Wolf, since I can’t help but start sweating profusely if the guy even looks at me, but I managed to keep it together long enough to have a great conversation with him about my future in the Ancestral Health movement. He’s got to be one of the nicest guys in this whole operation, and probably the most altruistic as well. I met lots of other cool folks that either read my blog or wrote blogs themselves, and it was fun getting a chance to find out how they got involved in the community. I loved chatting with Kathryn from Yoga Mama who had a great story about how going Paleo, with the help of Chris Kresser, completely changed her health. It’s so exciting to meet people who are so passionate about nutrition due to their own health improvements!
My mom certainly had fun as well, since she got a chance to talk with some of her favorite researchers. She managed to rope Chris Kresser, Dan Pardis, and Stephan Guyenet into taking a ride home from us, which was awesome to say the least. Dan drove us home (since I had enjoyed a bit too much of the wine) and the conversation was pretty funny. Let’s just say there were a lot of safe starch and white potato jokes. That drive home was just a great example of why I love attending these events… who would have ever thought I’d wind up with a carful of geniuses like that?
I got to spend time with a lot of really awesome people this weekend. I’m not going to list them all because there were too many, but it was great seeing so many old friends and new faces. I’m starting to feel much more a part of this community rather than a spectator, and I can’t wait to continue moving in this direction as far as my career goes.
I’m really hoping to be able to attend the WAPF conference in November in Santa Clara, California. Unfortunately since its a far flight and an expensive area of the country, I’m not quite sure if I’ll be able to afford the trip on my student budget. But I’m going to apply for a scholarship ticket, so we’ll see what happens.
Anyway, that’s my brief recap! All in all, it was a wonderful whirlwind trip and I’m really glad I got to attend. I really hope I get to see all my friends and colleagues in a few months in Cali!